Attorney General Eric Holder has answered Sen. Ran Paul's question of whether the government can use a drone to kill an American citizen on American soil if that person is not engaged in combat: "The answer to that question is no." Holder gave the answer in a letter to Paul, which White House spokesman Jay Carney read out loud while Paul was being interviewed about drones on Rush Limbaugh's radio show. Paul said "Hooray!" the letter "does answer my question," in an interview on Fox News Thursday afternoon. He said his next question is why the letter took so long. Still Paul cheered the response, saying, "Under duress, and under public humiliation, the White House will relent and do the right thing."
During his 13-hour filibuster of John Brennan's nomination to be CIA director, Paul demanded an answer to that question. He asked, "What rules are going to be used in America? If you’re going to kill noncombatants, people eating dinner in America, there have to be some rules. Does the Constitution apply?" And he said the government had the right to use lethal force if someone was aiming a bazooka at the Capitol.
Again, Paul was not talking about people attacking the U.S. Paul feared that Americans could be droned while minding their own business, sort of like how al Qaeda members get droned in Yemen. As he said on Fox News Tuesday:
"The thing about the drone strike program is we’re not talking about someone’s actively attacking America — we’re not talking about planes flying into the World Trade Center... What we’re talking about is you’re eating dinner in your house, you’re eating at a cafe or you’re walking down the road...
That’s when these drone strikes can occur. It’s not about people involved in combat — it’s about people who they think might be."
Sens. Lindsey Graham and John McCain said this idea was ridiculous on the Senate floor Thursday. But Paul made the same point when interviewed by Rush Limbaugh a little bit later the same day. Again, its problem is not with droning Yemenis, but with the hypothetical droning of Americans:
Limbaugh: I imagine a lot of people who came to this debate late who hear that the subject being discussed is whether or not the president will promise not to kill american people who are sitting at a cafe, who are not engaging in any provocative behavior -- a lot of people are saying, 'Come on there's no president who would ever do that what are we talking about here?'
Paul: ...It seems so absurd and so bizarre. It should be an easy question to answer.... We do drone strikes over seas, and I'm all for 'em when people are shooting at American soldiers. It's a great tool, it's a great weapon. But we are also killing a lot of people who aren't actively involved… Now they may be bad people, they may have been involved yesterday or are going to be tomorrow. But we kill them at home, asleep, in restaurants, cafes, etc.
Now that standard may be okay overseas -- I think it's debatable -- but at home that standard is not good enough.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.